Elva Irene Claassen Unruh, 101, died July 19, 2023 at Kidron Bethel Health Care in North Newton, Kansas. She was born April 8, 1922 to Albert S. and Florence (Shumi) Claassen in rural Plum Grove Township near Whitewater. As the second oldest of eight children, she grew up willingly helping with housekeeping, caring for younger siblings and outside chores on the farm. Her most treasured childhood gift was a piano where she spent many enjoyable hours developing her musical talent. At age 14, she began accompanying congregational hymn singing at Emmaus Mennonite Church. She was baptized and joined Emmaus on June 5, 1938 with Psalm 37:4 as her life verse. Elva graduated from Whitewater High School in 1940 and attended Bethel College to earn her teaching certificate. She met Arthur N. Unruh, the love of her life, while teaching his nephews at Star School, a country school with all eight grades in one room. Art and Elva were married on August 7, 1946. They were partners in raising three children and farming together. In 2001, they retired to a duplex along Sand Creek in the Kidron Bethel Village community where Elva embraced “city life” and new opportunities. Elva and Art celebrated 55 years of marriage before his death in 2002.
Elva was a member of Grace Hill Mennonite Church where she was an accomplished accompanist, sang in small groups and choir, and provided piano and organ music for worship services. She gave generously of her time and heart to teach children and serve in women’s ministry and a host of church activities. If something needed to be done, Elva was usually involved. She was on the Auxiliary Board at Wheat State Manor in Whitewater where, for many years, she led craft activities and rhythm band for the residents. She enjoyed serving as a weekly volunteer at the Newton Et Cetera Shop.
Elva welcomed many friends and family to her home, serving up warm hospitality and delicious meals including the family favorite of cherry pie. She was an excellent seamstress with a creative flair. The vegetable and flower gardens she carefully tended brought good eating and beauty to others. During her retirement years at Kidron, she enjoyed new friendships, participated in a bell choir and group activities, and shared her gift of music by playing the Assisted Living lobby organ on Sunday afternoons for residents and visitors. Elva had a kind and non-complaining nature and a positive outlook on life that endeared her to others.
She is survived by her children: a son, Dennis Unruh and wife Cynthia of Fresno, CA; two daughters, Sondra Merk and husband Dennis of Loveland, CO and Marilyn Unruh Flaming and husband Dwight J. of rural Hillsboro, KS; five grandchildren: Jessica Ward (Jeff) of Ft. Collins, CO; Jared Merk (Ladonia) of Greeley, CO; Brandon Unruh (Katherine) of Sudbury, MA; Taryn Finley (Coleman) of West Linn, OR; and Grant Flaming (Rachel) of Missoula, MT; and six great-grandchildren. Surviving siblings are John Claassen (North Newton); Mildred Voran (Newton), Dora Golden (Peoria, AZ) and Virgil Claassen (Goshen, IN).
She was preceded in death by her husband Arthur, brother Louis Claassen, and sisters Ruth Janzen and Elizabeth Goering.
A memorial service will be held at 11:00 am on Saturday, August 26 at Grace Hill Mennonite Church with Pastor Weldon Martens officiating.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Grace Hill Mennonite Church or the Newton Et Cetera Shop and left in care of Petersen Funeral Home, 215 N. Main, Newton, KS, 67114.